Dave Grohl’s directorial debut Sound City has been one of the most well received documentaries to premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, thanks to its intimate look at exalted musicians and the electrifying original music resulting from their collaboration. Yesterday, Mr. Grohl sat down with members of the press to discuss the process and meaning of making this film, one of the coolest rock docs in recent memory. Check out what he had to say!
Sound City Studios stood as one of the top recording studios in America for four decades, hosting such legendary bands as Nirvana, Neil Young, Rage Against the Machine, Fleetwood Mac, and Nine Inch Nails (to name only a few) as they recorded some of their most iconic and career-defining albums. When the digital revolution drove them out of business, Grohl decided to commemorate and pay tribute to the studio by making this film.
“What we set out to do was not only tell the history of the studio, but explain what Sound City meant to us, which was the human element of music…Sound city was the type of studio that you would record in if you wanted to capture something real and simple.”
One of the biggest draws of Sound City Studios, apart from its unexpected and uncanny acoustics, was a custom built Neve brand analog mixing board. When the studio closed its doors, Grohl purchased the board for his own recording studio in order to both preserve its use in rock and roll recording, and for the sentimentality he holds for it.
“I feel like that board is responsible for the person I am today. If it weren’t for that board, who knows what [Nevermind] would’ve sounded like. I really feel like that’s just as much a part of my history as any person I’ve ever been in a band with. So I wanted to pay tribute to it…”
“It’s a shame, because it’s considered obsolete, people think, ‘why use it?’ But there’s another life to it, there’s more to those boards than wires and knobs. They’re all different in their own way, and this is meant to be used. Forever.”
In an age of DIY music recording which allows amateurs to create polished sounding digital works, Grohl is afraid of music losing the personal touch of performance, and the communicative nature of the way bands write and record songs. He elaborated, by saying:
“People’s imperfections are what give them personality, and when you share all of that with other musicians…when you get that specific combination of people together that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, that’s magic. You search for that as a musician. And as a listener, I feel like people should search for that as well. Something that doesn’t sound transparent or pristine, or perfect. Something that sounds like a human being crying in pain, or singing their heart out because they’re so in love. Those are the things that grab you, I think. To have that conversation with people musically is something we wanted to lift the curtain on, and share with other people.”
Taking it upon himself to promote this notion, Dave set out to make a short film which he could share with as simple a venue as youtube, but the project expanded so quickly and with such vigorous interest from different artists.
“When we first decided to call out to the musicians, I asked the head of Sound City for a list of everyone who’s recorded here, and he just laughed, cause it’s thousands of albums. So he just gave me the short list. But that’s when we knew that this was gonna be more than a youtube clip that was 12 minutes long.”
“You can imagine the logistics of trying to get Trent Reznor and Rick Springfield in the same room…but because everyone was just as passionate about Sound City and its message as we are, it was easy. And it was fun.”
As the project progressed, Grohl found himself in the daunting position of “Film Director,” which can be a scary position to be thrown into. His enthusiasm for the film, however, allowed him to dive in head first and create exactly the film he wanted.
“I don’t even know what directing means…The other day, I was cleaning my garage, and I found my journal from when I decided to make this movie, and I wrote the outline of the entire film. It was seven pages. It was who we would interview, and what we would talk about…and I found it, and that’s the whole movie. Because we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do…and we were a very tight group of 15 or 16 people, completely independent of anybody telling us what to do or how to do it…”
“I’m not a director. I’m not a drummer. I’m not a guitar player. I fake all these things. I never took lessons to do any of this. I can’t read music. I hold my drumsticks backwards. I don’t know what a director is. But I do know that if you have a clear idea of what you want to do, if it’s in your head and you can visualize and then actualize it…then you wind up with something that makes sense.”
“If I sat here at the bar with you and had 16 beers and told you the story of sound city, it would be 1 hour and 47 min long. It would be exactly what we showed in the film. So it was pretty easy, I guess.”
When asked if there were any films or documentaries that held influence over Sound City, Grohl explained that while the movie itself was pretty much his own vision of the film, he explained the influence cinematic music influenced his whole career:
“The soundtrack to a documentary inspired me to start a band. It was called ‘The Decline of the Western Civilization,’ from the early 80s, about the punk rock scene in Los Angeles. And it’s awesome. It’s raw, and gritty, and real, and totally captures the vibe of that era and that music. I think I was 12 y/o when I heard it…[Also], the Paris TX soundtrack. That inspired the acoustic albumIn your Honor. [Without that film] I don’t know that I ever would’ve appreciated that dynamic, the beautiful and delicate acoustic vibe. And that’s maybe one of my top 3 albums.”
“It’s awesome what film can do for music. Everyone appreciates what music can do for film, but what film can do for music…. rather than have a 3 or 4 minute clip, you’ve got an entire story that gives depth to the artist, and makes them connect with the audience.”
Although the film will have a limited theatrical release, Grohl & Co. took a page out of Louis C.K.’s book, and decided to release the film digitally, direct to audiences to view by their own means:
“We’re doing the direct to consumers thing…I’m so not a businessman…I know that what we’re doing is different than what a lot of people typically do. We’re coming to this festival with a movie that’s finished and ready for everyone to see February 1st. You can go to SoundCityMovie.com and get it, DRM free, and show it to your friends on all your devices. If you live in a rainforest and can’t find a movie theater, you’ll at least be able to go somewhere and get it. Because we want to spread the message of Sound City.”
Finally, Grohl expanded upon exactly what he felt the message of the film he wanted to impart to audiences, especially younger fans:
“Music will never die, it will never go away, you just have to get it into their hands and their hearts, and that’s when we realized that we wanted to make something that will inspire kids to go to a yard sale, buy a crappy guitar, start a band with your friends, do in your garage and sound like crap, then you’re the biggest band in the world. And that’s Nirvana, or the beatles, and that’s not obsolete…I believe this could inspire the next generation of kids. We’re trying to show kids that we’re just people. I don’t believe that because the technology changed that the people have.”
Sound City is available for digital download on February 1st, 2013 at SoundCityMovie.com. Check it out!